Monday, March 2, 2009

Unbundling the Budget

The budget development process is well underway for 2009-2010. The process itself goes for almost half of the year - from February and the initial call for requests to the synthesis and preliminary budget through April, to the approvals needed by the MVCC Board of Trustees and the Oneida County Legislature - the final approval by the SUNY Board of Trustees doesn't come until September. The process has raised questions at every college where I've worked - always with more calls for transparency of process - so I thought a few insights here might be of value.

Funding Streams
MVCC is supported by three primary sources of funding. We are sponsored by Oneida County (providing 33%), supported by the State of New York (providing 31%) and receive 36% of our revenue from students paying tuition. The legislative goal in this state is to make that closer to 1/3 for each of these sources and under full opportunity legislation ideally 40/33/27 with the smallest share coming from the County sponsor, although that hasn't happened since the early 70s. MVCC has worked hard to adhere to a philosophy of smaller, annual tuition increases for students (generally around 3 percent or less) so that one cohort of students doesn't pay disproportionally for a tuition increase that becomes necessary after a year or more of no tuition increases.

Program Portfolio
Somewhat unique to community colleges is our mix of technical, career-oriented programs and our general education offerings. MVCC was founded as a technical institute in 1946 and as a result has maintained one of the most comprehensive array of career programs in New York State. Our career programs position us to be able to provide the area with a qualified and well-trained workforce, but these programs need to be balanced with a similar comprehensive array of general education courses and transfer programs. It's always been a fiscal reality for community colleges that without a healthy, well-managed transfer program, it will be that much more difficult to afford more expensive career programs. General education/transfer courses tend to have larger class sizes than the career programs - in community colleges that translates into classes with 25-40 with an occasional large lecture near 60 (in contrast to the university lectures more common with 100-300 students). Career programs have different requirements - so many training stations in the machine lab or clinical requirements in surgical technology for example - that increase program costs. In addition, many career programs have substantial equipment needs, from airplanes and engines in Airframe and Powerplant to computers in graphic animation, the per student cost is higher. MVCC tends to carry one of the highest, if not the highest, percentages of enrollments in technical programs as a proportion of overall enrollment among the 30 SUNY community colleges (around 54% of all MVCC enrollment in career programs in contrast to the SUNY community college average of 35%).

Operating and Capital
A common misconception about funding in community colleges is the difference between operating dollars and dollars for capital construction - they come from two different funding streams. In most, if not all, states around the country, community colleges must go through a separate process to secure funding for building projects. This is the background as to why we're able to be in the process of building the Robert Jorgensen Athletic Fieldhouse at a time when there is so much talk about reductions to the operating budgets at the College and around the state. Construction projects are handled through the capital budget process where requests are made and approved projects are funded through the sale of public bonds by the State of New York (50% share) and Oneida County (50%) share.

Budget decisions are never easy and are likely to get even more difficult in the months to come. However, we have worked hard at the College to develop a useful Strategic Plan that will grow in significance and usefulness to keep us focused in these challenging times. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.